Shopping may be changing with the internet age, but Park Slope’s storefront-lined avenues still sparkle, offering what the web sites can’t — a sense of community alight with charm, care, and collaboration. We met owners of four local businesses — a photography studio, an art gallery, and two designer jewelry and clothing boutiques — to find out what makes running a business in Park Slope unique and what they have planned for next year.
“Park Slope has become much more of a shopping destination, even for tourists and people coming from Manhattan,” says Diana Kane, whose boutique on 5th Avenue and President Street has been in business for the past nine years. Aside from showcasing handmade rings, pendants, beaded necklaces, earrings, and other items from her jewelry line, Diana also sells shoes, clothing, lingerie, and accessories from sustainable, hard-to-find, and independent designers including locals like Aki Kano and Megan Noonan for Marijn Bennett, Prairie Underground from Seattle, and Belgium’s Mia Zia. “I feel like the closer you are to the source and the least poison you can put on your body, around your body, in the atmosphere – that’s important to me,” Diana says. “As a mother especially, it becomes clear that your choices across the spectrum make a difference, so you might as well go greener.
Diana has stocked her store with plenty of designer items perfect for holiday shopping – seasonal coats and dresses, locally-made handbags, cozy cashmere pop-top gloves and arm warmers, and Diana’s own jewelry. When it comes to choosing products and designers for her store, she likes to keep it simple: “If I want it, I figure most of the time somebody else will too. That’s the most consistent thread through this store.” Diana says that running a business is always challenging – “it’s all about recognizing your neighborhood, knowing who your customers are, and just being available to them.”
Tara Silderberg at The Clay Pot on 7th Avenue has years of experience finding some of the most unique jewelry designers, and her relationship with her jewelers seals the deal for personal service. “I think we may be partially responsible for the Park Slope baby boom,” she says with a smile. “All these starry-eyed young couples come out here to look at wedding bands and then see all the kids and babies – you can draw your own conclusion.” While their bridal service attracts customers from all over, the store inspires loyalty from neighbors who’ve been coming by since Tara’s parents opened the business in 1969.
The Clay Pot carries a wide array of jewelry from designers like Alexis Bittar, Susan Fleming, Patricia Locke, and Ten Thousand Things. “By being loyal to my jewelers, I in turn can get amazing favors done for my customers. I had a request from a dear customer, who is also a friend, this summer after his wife suddenly passed away, to turn a strand of pearls they had purchased together into a bracelet for him and a necklace for his daughter. Not only did my jeweler do this for me in a week, but they didn’t charge us. While things like this don’t happen every day, it is an example of the tight-knit nature of what I do.”
440 Gallery, a gallery and artist collective on 6th Avenue and 9th Street, shares a similar in-tune relationship with the neighborhood and with its artists. “I was anxious to have a steady place to show my work,” says Nancy Lunsford, who co-founded the gallery in December 2004 along with ten other artists. The space is currently booked for the next seven years and showcases solo exhibits in its front area and the ongoing work of its members near the back – an inviting setup that gives visitors and potential buyers an art experience that’s both collaborative and ever-evolving. “It’s funny because art is a commodity, but you’re really paying for that emotional connection,” says Nancy, whose experience selling art goes back to her days as a street portraiture artist outside the Grand Ole Opry when she was nineteen.
“The comment we hear from people who are familiar with galleries and have gone to our space is that the prices are so reasonable for the quality. A large part of that is because we are a collective – we don’t have as high an overhead as some other galleries,” Nancy says. “The fourteen artists we have right now are very strong in their fields. We like to keep a variety – we’re abstract, we’re realists, we’re photographers, we have collage, sculpture – we work for a constant balance.” Nancy and her fellow artists will host their annual Small Works Show from December 8th through January 7th then bring another year of exhibitions, both from the collective and other artists, to the neighborhood.
At Roberto Falck Photography next to Union Market on 6th Avenue, Roberto and partner Rachel Elkind have been photographing weddings, babies, children, and family portraits for the past six years. Roberto opened his Park Slope studio after stumbling across the available storefront while visiting his brother, which is when the business evolved from wedding photography to family photography as well. “Park Slope is a magnet for couples who are thinking of growing a family,” he says, noting that he and Rachel want to be “more than a ‘wedding photographer’ – we want to be their family photographer.” That’s why many of Roberto’s clients keep coming back, whether they live in the neighborhood, Manhattan, or beyond: “The family starts growing, they start having kids, and they come back to us.”
When it comes to plans for next year, Roberto says “I see it as a progression. We not only want to grow the business, but we want to be in tune with what’s going on here. What gets me the most excited is the challenge of trying to get something different with every client that we have.” For Diana Kane, 2012 will be another year spent designing jewelry, finding fun and sustainable goodies to sell in her store, and spending time with her family. What’s kept her business so successful? “I think it’s being part of your community, knowing your customers, being friendly and not pushy – those are the things that have kept us here. That, and always keeping a consistent viewpoint about what we like.” Tara Silderberg has a similar year ahead filled with hunting down new designs for The Clay Pot, but she prefers to sum up her outlook with a quote from E.B. White: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” But there’s one thing they can all count on: Shopping trends may change, but when you make the extra effort to connect with customers and neighbors on a grassroots level, not only can you survive, but you can flourish.